It was getting dark. Not twilight dark, but hey-it’s-legitimately-dark-outside dark. It was about 4:45PM when we pulled out of the park and headed north, back to Fairbanks. Drew and I had had a large lunch at around 2PM. Back in Nenana (pronounced like ba-na-na), when we made the decision to keep searching for the elusive Denali, neither of us gave a thought to dinner. Someone else was though.
Fifteen minutes down the road, Lukas started squawking. It’s what we affectionately call his“gentle reminder.” He was hungry, but he was being nice about it. If we stopped the car and fed him in the next fifteen to twenty minutes, all would be forgiven and forgotten. Drew and I glanced at each other. We had brought his backpack, full of extra diapers, wipes, a few toys, and I had even remembered his pacifier. But there wasn’t a jar of food or a squeezie bag of fruit to be found. I hadn’t even grabbed a banana. The only other bag in the car was Drew’s emergency backpack, full of water bottles, KIND bars (the really hard sort) and a blanket.
“Okay, “I said confidently, “we passed a decent sized gas station on our way here. It was about twenty minutes from the park. We can stop there.” The squawks were becoming a little more insistent. We zoomed past a gas station.
“I think that was it, babe.”
“No, I’m pretty sure there’s another one,” Drew said confidently. We passed a second, much smaller gas station.
“I think that first one was it,” I said.
“I’m pretty sure there’s another one coming up. It has a huge sign in front of it.” At this point we had left the first gas station in our dust. I didn’t push the issue and Drew didn’t want to turn around. I consoled myself with the fact that Tenana was only thirty minutes away.
Thirty minutes later, I realized that Tenana was not, in fact, thirty minutes away. And Lukas had entered the “guys-I’m-going-to-starve” phase. He was crying in earnest. There’s a reason spas don’t play soundtracks of crying babies. I started to get this weird, tight feeling in my chest. My baby was crying and I hadn’t brought food. Lukas is a pretty chill kiddo. He doesn’t cry unless he falls and bumps his head; you take the PS4 controller away from him; or…he’s hungry. A neon sign was flashing in front of my eyes: “Worst Mom in the w-o-r-l-d.”
“Okay, pull over,” I said to Drew. I rummaged in the back for the box of KIND bars. Lukas looked at me hopefully, alligator tears swimming in his eyes. I broke off a piece of the peanut butter bar and offered it to him. It was hard—pretty unforgiving stuff for a kid who only has two teeth (two bottom teeth, at that). So I winced, and popped a big chunk of KIND bar in my mouth, chewed, and spit it back out. Yep, that was where we were: mama bird feeding baby bird. Drew was laughing to himself in the front. I know, I know, this will make a great story for when Lukas is a teenager. But at that moment, I was feeling all the guilt for forgetting to pack my baby food. Who does that?
“Remember that time in the middle of Nowhere, Alaska, when your mom chewed up KIND bar pieces in her mouth and fed them to you?”
Lukas ate the entire KIND bar, baby bird style, than started whimpering. He has a huge appetite and one peanut butter KIND bar was not going to do the trick. Twenty minutes later, we pulled into a gas station on the outskirts of Tenana. I felt like the world’s worst parent as we carefully examined the little gas station’s stock of packaged food for something relatively healthy that would appeal to an almost nine-month-old.
“Cheese sticks!” I crowed. “These will work.” We also found a package of Fig Newtons (fruit, yo) and a box of animal crackers. Lukas was happy as a clam. I guess gas station food is his jam.
Moral of the story #1: Apparently, gas station food won’t kill your kid.
Moral #2: Be prepared, dummy. His backpack is now stocked with paper towels, a spoon, several jars of baby food, a few fruit squeezies, and a baggie of Cheerios. No more mama bird situations here!